Communities and friendships

Adulting, the book by Kelly Williams Brown, was published ten years ago.  Kathryn Jezer-Morton, commenting on it, says, “As a cultural document, Adulting sums up the anxiously self-reliant ethos of early-aughts millennials as accurately as the Whole Earth Catalog summed up the back-to-the-land fantasies of early 1970s boomers.”   I had a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog, and I harboured back-to-the-land fantasies (I still harbour them), being of that generation.  But I hadn’t heard of Adulting before I came across Jezer-Morton’s comment. 

I latched onto it because she’s saying that when it was written, there was an assumption that once people stopped being kids, and dependent on parents for care and nurturing then they became ‘independent’ and able to care for themselves.   That’s an expectation that I was brought up with.  When we were 18 we were expected, by my parents, to leave the family home and be self-reliant, financially, and generally.  (The three of us obeyed).

Jezer-Morton challenges this view, seeing it as unhelpful and inappropriate in current times. She says, “It feels like this definition of adulthood is wearing thin under the pressures of our times. Adults can survive independently, but should they? Is there really any historical precedent at all for fully independent adults … What if [adulthood] were understood completely differently? We define adulthood as a point at which you can leave a community behind and start out on your own. Imagine if, instead, it was a point at which a community could rely on you to show up for others?”

Showing up for others, I think is a wonderful phrase.  We saw it in action during the Covid-19 pandemic when mutual aid communities came into sharp focus, clearly highlighting the power and sustenance of the support that community members gave and received, during that two-plus years.   Now I wonder if the magic of it is dwindling, are people still ‘showing up for others’ in similar ways?  

Am I ‘showing up for others’?   I wondered about this as I pondered the ‘People care’ ethical principle of the permaculture community. (I am taking a permaculture course).  The principle urges us to ‘Take care of self, kin and community’, saying, ‘People Care begins with ourselves and expands to include our families, neighbours and wider communities. …  If we can recognise that a greater wisdom lies within a group of people, we can work with others to bring about the best outcomes for all involved.’

I think the plurality of ‘communities’ is useful in this principle.   It is rare, in my observations, that people belong only to ‘a community’.   They often belong to several.   The Covid-19 experience illustrated this.  Examples of types of communities generated during that period included neighbourhood communitiesvirtual running communities, singing communities – Carpe Diem’s Daily Antidote of Song is still going strong.   (I still love participating in this – me in one city and my daughter in another and both of us feeling part of a wider community enjoying singing together and, over time becoming enmeshed as a member of it.)  

The multiple communities idea reminded me of an article someone sent me a few weeks ago on friendships, ‘How many friends do you really need in adulthood?’   In it the author, Suzanne Degges-White, describes Aristotle’s three types of friendship:

  • Friendships of utility – are the friendships some of us would call “friendships of convenience. Typically, they are short-term arising out of a specific situation e.g. taking turns taking children to a club.
  • Friendships of pleasure or mutual interest that are all about simply enjoying one another’s company and having a good time together, these may or may not last over years e.g. a book club or knitting circle
  • Friendships of good, based on mutual respect, admiration, and appreciation for the qualities each of you brings to the relationship. These relationships endure and are fed by the mutuality of the esteem and appreciation between the true friends. 

It struck me that the several communities I belong to could easily be categorised similarly.   I belong to a couple I would put in the community of utility/convenience group for example, the nearby neighbours who put out/take in each other’s bins, or take in package deliveries, or water the next door’s garden if needed.  

Then I belong to several I categorised as community of pleasure – the local parkrun community, my book club, the community garden group, and the knitting circle. 

And I belong to a couple of communities that are friendships of good – my family members – immediate and extended, and some long-term friends (one I was at nursery school with 70 years ago) that have developed into a community.

The question about ‘showing up for others’ in the communities, bears reflection.  It seems to me that there are various types of ways of showing up, depending on the nature of your relationships with the people in the communities. Within the communities of utility, mutual interest and good that I belong to, I find that I have developed different types of friendships within each.

And on this, a different way of categorising friendships is helpful.  Suzanne Degges-White, in the article mentioned above, talks of friends in terms of acquaintances, casual friends, close friends, and intimate or “best” friends. 

  • Acquaintances are the people we see on a fairly regular basis that we “sort of know,” at least well enough to make idle small talk.
  • Casual friends are typically those with whom you spend time within shared activities or with whom you cross paths on a regular basis.
  • Close friends are those with whom you have enough mutual admiration and affinity that you share a little more of yourself, they share a little more about themselves, and you continue to enjoy getting to know one another and spending time together.
  • Intimate friends are the most intensely connected. These are the friends that you let into the inner sanctum of your heart and mind, who you trust with the deepest secrets, and who you know will never let you down or betray your trust.

The question of ‘Do I show up for others?’ doesn’t have a ‘yes or no’ answer.  Although my orientation is towards showing up, the answer on whether I do or not is nuanced.  It depends on factors including the nature of the community, the types of friendships I have with the people in the communities, and my time/resource/commitment ability to ‘show up’.  Sometimes I’d like to show up more than I do and feel neglectful of the community.  Other times I feel I am really pulling my weight.  On the whole, I think I’m able to keep a balance of giving to and receiving from other community members (one baby-sitting circle I once belonged to had a system of token exchange to ensure this), but it’s something I’m now going to be more conscious of.


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